The F601Z keeps the vertical design of its predecessors the 6800Z, 4700Z, 2700Z, 1700Z and originally the 700Z. Indeed, to my knowledge the F601Z is the only current mainstream digital camera to go with this 'taller than wide' layout. What the tall design does allow for is a better grip while maintaining compact proportions. In the development from the 6800Z to the F601Z Fujifilm has managed to shave an impressive 8 mm in width, 4.5 mm in height and 2.5 mm in depth from the design. This makes the F601Z even smaller, to boot it's also nearly 50 g (1.8 oz) lighter.
The F601Z has a very nice, rounded and ergonomic design, clad in a metal alloy body the camera is cool to the touch and feels very well built. Thanks to the fully retracting lens and sliding lens cover it's also a camera you feel comfortable to take anywhere. Strong enough to take the occasional knock but compact enough to fit into a jacket pocket.
The control layout has changed considerably since the 6800Z, with a simplified and more logical button setup on the back of the camera and a traditional 'mode dial around the shutter release' on the top of the camera. The now separated push-on push-off power button is located conveniently, overall you get the feeling the design spent a lot of time thinking about how the camera will be used day to day.
Side by side
Here is the F601Z sandwiched between two other metal clad compact 'high end' digital cameras. Left to right: Canon PowerShot S40 ($650), Fujifilm FinePix F601 Zoom ($600), Sony DSC-P9 ($600). Another interesting note is that each of these cameras uses a different storage media.
As I commented above the F601's vertical orientation actually aides single handed grip because of the additional finger space on the front of the camera. The subtle finger grip 'bump' on the front of the camera is actually surprisingly functional and does help. The camera feels solid, well built, expensive and yet is still compact and light weight.
Gone is the 6800Z's big 2.0" LCD to be replaced with the 'flavour of the month' 1.5" 110,00 pixel TFT LCD which we've seen on so many other digital cameras. There's one reason that so many manufacturers are using it, because it's good. The F601's new LCD monitor may be smaller than its predecessor's but it does seem to be considerably brighter, sharper and more detailed. Perhaps the only thing missing is an anti-reflective coating.
One painful "issue" with the F601's LCD Monitor is that it provides just 89% frame coverage during live preview. This means that the live preview frame that you are seeing represents the center 89% of the final image. An example of what this means in reality can be seen below. The border area around the center of the image is the additional image area captured which wasn't seen on the live view LCD monitor before the shot was taken.
Mode indicator panel
Directly above the LCD monitor is the mode indicator panel. This is essentially a row of six LED's which indicate the current play / record mode of the camera. This depends on the position of the play / record switch on the rear of the camera and the record mode dial on the top of the camera.
Modes are: Play, Manual record, Scene mode, Auto record, Movie clip record, Audio record.
The F601Z has a typical 'optical tunnel' viewfinder which you will probably only ever find yourself using in extreme bright or dark where you can't see the LCD monitor.
The viewfinder provides approximately 80% frame coverage.
Battery / Storage Compartment
The F601's combined battery and storage compartment is accessed by sliding the compartment door downwards, it will pop up and open vertically. Inside you will find the narrow battery slot for the ultra compact NP-60 Lithium-Ion (3.6 V, 1035 mAh = 3.72 Wh) rechargeable battery. The battery can be ejected by pressing the bottom of the compartment. Beside this is the SmartMedia slot which is a push-in / pull-out type. Note that the battery charges in-camera using the provided AC adapter / charger or by placing the camera on the optional cradle.
In a change from the 6800Z the F601Z features only two connectors. On the left side of the camera (from the rear) is the DC-IN connector for the supplied AC adapter / charger. On the base of the camera you will find a small door behind which is the cradle connector. This also provides USB connectivity (via the supplied cable) if you don't have the cradle. Note that there is no video out capability from the camera without the cradle.